Exceptions to Foreign Trusts: Business Trusts

As I mentioned in an earlier article, U.S. tax law includes a number of important exceptions to legal definition of a foreign trust – i.e. an entity can be classified as a foreign trust for legal purposes and not as a trust (but as a corporation or a partnership) for U.S. tax purposes. This is also true with respect to domestic trusts, but, in international context, the issues are far more complicated and require detailed exploration of facts and, often, local laws. In this article, I would like to discuss one of the most common exceptions to foreign trusts – business trusts.

Business Trusts Taxed as Corporations or Partnerships

Where an entity is organized as a trust but engages in the active conduct of trade or business, the IRS may re-classify this trust as a “business trust” and tax it as a corporation or partnership. The most relevant primary law on this point can be found in IRS Regs. §301.7701-4(b):

There are other arrangements which are known as trusts because the legal title to property is conveyed to trustees for the benefit of beneficiaries, but which are not classified as trusts for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code because they are not simply arrangements to protect or conserve the property for the beneficiaries. These trusts, which are often known as business or commercial trusts, generally are created by the beneficiaries simply as a device to carry on a profit-making business which normally would have been carried on through business organizations that are classified as corporations or partnerships under the Internal Revenue Code. However, the fact that the corpus of the trust is not supplied by the beneficiaries is not sufficient reason in itself for classifying the arrangement as an ordinary trust rather than as an association or partnership. The fact that any organization is technically cast in the trust form, by conveying title to property to trustees for the benefit of persons designated as beneficiaries, will not change the real character of the organization if the organization is more properly classified as a business entity under § 301.7701-2.

Let’s explore these regulations in more depth in order to have a clear idea of the general test for business trusts.

Most Important Features of Business Trusts for Federal Income Tax Purposes

There are two most important factors in determining whether a trust is a business trust. The first and most important distinction between ordinary trusts and business trusts is the conduct of a “profit-making business” which “normally” would have been done by a business entity. It is important to understand that it is not simply the ownership of business assets which re-classifies ordinary trusts in business trusts; rather, while ordinary trusts must be created for the purpose of conservation and preservation of assets for beneficiaries, business trusts should be created for the purpose of the profit-making activities.

How does one determine the purpose for which a trust is created? There are various factors, including the history of the trust. The trust agreement (the document that creates the trust), however, is the key document on which the IRS will focus.

The second important feature of business trusts concerns domestic and foreign trusts which have associates to conduct an active trade or business for their benefit. In such cases, the trusts will be reclassified as business trusts and taxed as corporations or partnerships.

Both of these factors in determining the business nature of a trust rely are highly dependent on facts and require minute analysis of a trust’s history and circumstances. The help of an experienced international tax lawyer is indispensable in this matter.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Trust Classification

If you are a beneficiary or grantor of a foreign trust, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help in determining the classification of the trust. The founder of our firm, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, is a highly experienced international tax lawyer who has helped hundreds of taxpayers in and outside of the United States with their U.S. international tax compliance issues.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Outbound Foreign Trust: An Introduction

One of the most fundamental distinctions in US foreign trust law is the difference between an inbound foreign trust and an outbound foreign trust. This distinction was emphasized by the landmark piece of legislation “The Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996″ and should be clearly understood by US tax lawyers as well as US grantors and US beneficiaries of a foreign trust.

Definition of an Outbound Foreign Trust

In order for a foreign trust to be deemed “outbound”, two conditions must be satisfied. First, the trust was created through the transfer of assets by a US person. Second, the trust must be a foreign trust or a domestic trust that later became a foreign trust.

Obviously, a transfer by a foreign person of exclusively foreign assets to a foreign trust which has only foreign beneficiaries is completely irrelevant because there is no nexus with the United States (hence, the foreign trust is not subject to taxation in the United States).

Two Areas of Special Importance of an Outbound Foreign Trust

There are two particular areas of special interest for international tax lawyers with respect to an outbound foreign trust. First, the grantor trust rule under IRC (Internal Revenue Code) Section 679. In general, where a US grantor transfers property to a foreign trust, IRC Section 679 taxes the US grantor as the owner of any portion of a foreign trust attributable to the transferred property in any year in which the trust has a US beneficiary. This is a complex rule that deserves special treatment in a separate article.

The second area of special importance with respect to outbound foreign trusts is the taxation of the transfer of appreciated assets to a nongrantor foreign trust under IRC Section 684 and the excise tax under the already-repealed IRC Sections 1491-1494. Again, this is a topic that should be discussed in a separate article; I just wanted the readers to be aware of the existence of this rule.

Obviously, there are other highly important tax issues associated with an outbound foreign trust, but these issues are usually discussed in conjunction with an inbound foreign trust, taxation of foreign trusts in general, or they are similar to taxation of US domestic trusts.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Respect to US Taxation of an Outbound Foreign Trust

The US tax issues associated with foreign trusts in general and an outbound foreign trust in particular are immensely complex. This is why, if you are a US person who is considered to be an owner or a beneficiary of an outbound foreign trust, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for help with your US tax compliance and planning with respect to this outbound foreign trust.

Contact US Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!